A judge's viewpoint

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Stephen Whiteside
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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Fri Dec 10, 2010 7:33 am

I pretty much agree with ev'rything David has said, but what troubles me most about bush poetry is the sameness of it all. I have often sat down to some 80 line epic that has won a major comp and said to myself, "Stephen, you can do it. You can read this poem right through, from the start to the very end. It just takes determination and application." A lot of them, while technically splendid, are (dare I say it?) a bit dull...or so it seems to me. Obviously, many others would not agree, or else they would not have won.

I suppose I should come clean and say that I lack the patience (and possibly also the technical skill) to mix it with the truly elite bush poets. Then again, I favour a slightly different type of writing, and seem to do reasonably well in my chosen field.

I worry, though, that so little prize winning bush poetry finds an audience. Let's face it, most of it never even gets published!

From what I've seen (and I'm happy to be corrected) most bush poetry comps are pretty much the same. The entries range from 40 - 80 lines (with a preponderance of the longer lengths); there is an 'Open' category, perhaps a 'Humorous' one, perhaps a 'Local' one, and a couple of junior categories.

Big deal!

I'd like to see comp organisers demonstrate far more imagination.

I'd like a category for a poem with a maximum of 40 lines.

I'd like a category where all 'AABB' and 'ABAB' rhyme patterns are banned.

I'd like a category where all poems in which every line is the same length are banned.

I'd like a 'tribute' category. By this, I mean we say, 'This year we want poems written in the style of Barcroft Boake. Next year it will be Mary Gilmore. The year after that it will be Thomas Spencer,' etc.

I'd like a category of poems written by adults for children. (Toolangi has this. Are there others? There may be, but I'm not aware of them.)

And...(sound the trumpets!)...I'd like a prize for the best 'verse novel' - for both adults and children. "What is a verse novel?" I hear you ask. Well, the most successful poetry books ever published in Australia were both verse novels. I'm talking about the Sentimental Bloke and Ginger Mick. A verse novel is a novel told in verse - a series of verses that, when put together, work as a novel - they tell a longer, more complicated story, involving a larger cast of characters.

The general public love novels. That was true 100 years ago, and it's still true today. Lawson's publishers begged him to write a novel, and he had a good crack at it with 'Water Them Geraniums'. Dennis published a 'book of poems' (Backblock Ballads) and it bombed. He then wrote a verse novel, and guess what? Huge success.

We don't see many verse novels these days, because they are extremely hard to write. (And let's face it, most of us bush poets are past our prime, and our brains are starting to atrophy!) But I think that's all the more reason to encourage them.

We need super-short poems, and we need super-long ones (novels). In short, we need more diversity - both to stimulate ourselves and our audiences.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer


Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by Kym » Fri Dec 10, 2010 8:42 am

Verse novels, huh Stephen? Very interesting. I could write a book called "The Grandad Fiascos" with my series of Grandad poems:

- Grandad and the Nitro-Powered Mower
- Grandad and the Flamin' Dryer
- Grandad's False Teeth
- Branding Grandad
- Grandad and the Electric Fence
- The Puppy Whizzed on Grandad's Boot
- The Day That Nan Shot Gramps
and so on ... it's the same characters in each poem!

But then, some of my horse poems are 40 to 50 verses long - that's almost long enough to make a novel. Epics, I believed Glenny called them years ago.

What a novel idea!


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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by Zondrae » Fri Dec 10, 2010 9:19 am

.. and I have a 3/4 finished novel that I could re-write - in verse.

(Strike me flamin' pink! and I'll add blimey charley!) I don't have enough hours in my day as it is. Where would I find the time to re-do that saga.. Then there is the problem of finding an editor to read for computer missed errors in grammar etc. Maybe I'll look at the first little bit and see if I can versify it.

Stephen, I hope you are willing to take responsibility for what you have started.

now, where is that print out. mmm might have it on a memory stick, if I'm lucky. Think the pages are in ...
Zondrae King
a woman of words

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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by Peely » Fri Dec 10, 2010 10:20 am

G'day Stephen

It is interesting that you mention the "verse novel". I know a bloke that is working on one. He is getting close to being two thirds of the way through writing it. He hopes to complete writing it around the middle of next year.


John Peel
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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by Irene » Fri Dec 10, 2010 10:44 am

HI Stephen
I know where you are coming from with the really long poems - I also have trouble keeping the interest with some of the long poems. However, I recognise that they are great poems, it is just my preference for shorter poems. (My brain doesn't keep the concentration too well!!! :oops: )

There are a number of competitions that have a maximum of 40 lines, and the comps that I organise all have that restriction on.

However, I think you would be taking away something if you were to ban particular rhyming patterns or lengths of lines, as these very much fit the criteria of 'bush poetry'. It would no longer be a bush poetry competition if you start cutting out the styles that are most commonly associated with bush poetry.
And a lot of people do write in a different style, while still keeping within the definition of 'bush poetry'.

I like your idea of a 'tribute' category - and I believe there are competitions that do that also.

I think I would be well out of the running for a 'verse' novel - have trouble writing anything over the 40 lines - much less a book in verse!!! :lol:

I also think it is a shame that the poems entered in written competitions are often not seen - I would love to see anthologies of the poems entered into competitions so you could read the poems and know what the standards are. However, an anthology then makes a poem published, and knocks it out of some further competitions.

What goes around, comes around.

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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by keats » Fri Dec 10, 2010 12:49 pm

Yeah, well what about a section for Australian Poets called Neil from Ballarat with Big Ears. I feel it is a section that has been missing and ignored for too long and may even enter it myself!!

william williams

Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by william williams » Fri Dec 10, 2010 1:08 pm

:lol: :o :oops: Hey Keats Neil’s ears are alright it is just that the opposition performers keep pulling them instead of his leg, :roll: an he reckons you would never enter anything let alone a pub bar for fear you might have buy your own drink, and where we come from we never fill a glass up until it is empty



Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by Kym » Fri Dec 10, 2010 2:40 pm

Hoy Neil, did you ever give that windscreen wiper back? ;)

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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by keats » Fri Dec 10, 2010 2:58 pm

I never took it!! I was only stirring!! Are you calling me a thief and a vandal?????????? Yeah well I might be, but I never took the wiper, only the hood ornament!!!

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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by Neville Briggs » Fri Dec 10, 2010 3:58 pm

Stephen, I think that you have brought up a lot of very good ideas. (I pass on the verse novel, too hard for me.)

I certainly agree that the word or line limits should be considered. That is because I believe that limiting imposes the discipline of using the best words to the best effect which I am led to believe by authorities , is the essence of poetic expression.
With some of the long poems, probably because of my age, by the time they get towards the end I can't remember what they were talking about earlier and I lose the thread. I feel a bit of a heel that I am not listening properly, but it happens sometimes, no matter how hard I try to concentrate.

I think your ideas about thematic categories are excellent.

" Prose is description, poetry is presence " Les Murray.

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